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The loneliest drive. II

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The man I reached was un-doubtfully my brother. In mind. His body now betraying him was growing hollow, just what remained of a life. I reached his bed and sat next to him. I took his hand, not a handshake but a wrestling grip, and warned him I would ask him the stupidest question in his life.
“How do you feel?”
He smiled and said “I feel like dying”. And then he added “and that is not the stupidest thing you have asked me”.
His brain, plagued by little tumors, was still able to joke. I asked my niece and his wife to leave us alone for a while. For the first time in our lives we cried together. There was no way that either one of us would lie to each other now and the scenario was clear and understood: he would die soon and I would not. And pretty soon we would part ways, with the mutual understanding that I would continue and he wouldn’t. We talked for a while, I thanked him for so much. He did the same and we exchanged a long meaningful silence.
Cancer is not really a disease. You contract a disease: a bacteria enters your system and attacks you. A toxin breaches your defenses and hurts you. Or a part of your genome reaches a point in which it starts its work and deforms you.
But cancer is not like that. Cancer is not alien: cancer IS YOU. A group of cells, perhaps as small as a single one, goes rogue and decides to take over. To fight from within, to conquer you, its host.
Cancer is not a disease. Cancer is a betrayal, treason. And when it reaches a stage of finality, cancer is something completely hateful because it kills you, even though in the process it will kill itself too.

The last few days with my brother were of solace. It was nice to see that neither one of us had any of those moments of forgiveness that take place between some siblings. He had never done anything bad to me and I had never done anything to him. There was nothing to reproach, there were no regrets. All my memories of my brother are good ones and will be enjoyable. We were supportive of each other, we understood where the other one stood. We were completely at ease with being each other’s brother.
We talked several times during those days. Although not a militant skeptic as I am, he knew that this was goodbye. His wife and daughters, cultured in catholic traditions, kept talking to him about an afterlife, about how he would re-join with other gone members of the family. He just smiled.
A pastor was sent to “counsel” him, a failed attempt by the hospice to provide comfort. The man was quietly turned away, not before a small conversation between his wife and him in which he had to remind her that the dying one was him, not her. “The day you die, you can talk to whomever you want” he told her. She went to dismiss the man and he rolled his eyes at me.
If there is a thereafter, we both are going to be so surprised. And we will roll our eyes.

The end came as anything but those swift theatrical deaths. The disease had ravaged his body but what we all wanted, that there would be no pain, was impossible. A sorrowful part of what happened is that the last two days of his life were spent in the haze of morphine and pain killers. My sister, an MD herself, was able to tell that some of the lesions were of such magnitude they could be felt by hand. We took turns caring for him and on the last night, it was mine. He spent it in discomfort, uttering a low, painful groan that killed me as I knew not what to do. And all I could do was to hold his hand as he faded, a gesture of not letting go. I did that, as if in some way, I could keep him with me a little longer, with us for just while.
The day after that he started a slow descent from which he would not recover. The hours were long and a torture, both for him and us, and late on the night we gathered around him as the end was obvious. We all held a little piece of him, a hand, an arm, a brief touch of the skin and waited. His breathing grew shallower, his mind shut down and in an almost imperceptible manner, at one moment he left us.

We all took turns coming into the room while we waited for the hospice personnel to arrive and take care of the mundane details that come with death. My last gesture to my brother was to put my forehead on his and whisper goodbye and a statement that he had been a good brother. Deaths are inevitable moments of reckoning and within the family there are various degrees of religiosity and therefore there were different reactions. One sister kept talking about his imminent reunion with our father, another talked about him going to a happier place.
It irritated me.
My own feelings, of course, are that my brother simply has ceased to exist, in all possible manners. My goodbye was sincere and it was the same I uttered to my father, when that moment happened. The best form of immortality I can wish upon him is the one I will wish upon everybody: billions of years from now, when the sun swallows us all, we will all rejoin and become part of a star. And if the universe had given us a large enough nuclear reactor, a Nova would have spread us into the universe again. It won’t happen, but we will all be together inside Solaris.
I find that to be the sole reunion we can all expect.

I went back home after a brief memorial and the last part of my return was a four hour drive through the American west. It was the loneliest drive of my life. One more thing that my brother and I shared was our love for driving. Just plain driving. We loved getting in a car and drive through the immense distances of the west plains. And as I did that now, the fact that he was not there with me was terribly sad. I cried many times as I drove, simply because so many things reminded me of him. A song that started playing, the geology of the land (he was a geologist), the memories of drives taken and the blunt fact that I know we will never again see each other. That he is gone in a categorical forever.
But the overwhelming sensation is that my brother did not die. The feeling is that he was robbed from us. He was not an old man and he had, statistically, several years left of life. He had recently moved to a small house of his liking, in a town that had welcomed him. I feel that he was stolen from us, and that a lot was taken from him. It is the reason why my feelings have all a shade of rage on them. And a feeling of impotence. Why did this happen? Why not. Why to us? Why not you. On the day my brother died many more people did too. There is no specialness on what happened, only to those that went through it.
The death of a sibling is painful in another scale. It is not a parent, which nature states should depart earlier. We are a family in which the five of us really love each other. We were taught that blood was special and brotherhood even more. And we were tightly bound to each other.
So when my brother died, he took away a part of us all. And I feel that on that night, when my brother left, I lost three quarters of a brother, one quarter of a father, and a precise twenty percent of me died away too.

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My brother and I. One last conversation.

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Updated 02-11-2018 at 05:16 PM by ponchi101



  1. Ti-Amie's Avatar
    What a difficult thing to share. My condolences to you and your family.
  2. dryrunguy's Avatar
    I am just now seeing this, ponchi. I've been sitting here for about 5 minutes trying to figure out what else to say. I appreciate your rawness here. And I can relate. It is one thing to visit someone in hospice. It is completely another to live through the end of what hospice inevitably means and to be one of those left behind. A piece of you dies there, too. And I think that's okay because in its own way the part of us that dies, too, is powerful reality of our respect for the one who left.

    I will be thinking of you and yours in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Thank you for sharing this with your TAT family.

  3. shtexas's Avatar
    I always forget to read the blogs. My sincerest condolences to you and your whole family.
  4. Kirkus's Avatar
    Aww, ponchi. My heart is breaking for you.

    Words just can't convey...
  5. mmmm8's Avatar
    I am so sorry .... Thank you for sharing